self-publishing

Digital Cerebus

One of the guiding lights of my young adulthood was the unrelentingly bizarre self-published comic book Cerebus, a 6,000 page epic chronicling the rise and fall of an anthropomorphic Aardark barbarian in a human fantasy world, with notable supporting characters Groucho Marx, Oscar Wilde, Mick Jaggar and Keith Richards and many, many others. By the end of the 30-year effort, the comic's creator, Dave Sim, had quite literally lost his mind, alienated most of his friends and holed up in his house in Ontario writing misogynist religious screeds.

I never thought we would get a digital version of Cerebus, because Sim has stated repeatedly that he doesn't like digital comics, or technology in general-- the man's a hard-core luddite who refuses to use email and writes on a type writer. And yet here he is with a kickstarter project. Digitize Cerebus, get it on comiXology and other venues (full discloser: comiXology is my employer), with all the backup features and letters pages, covers and back covers (much of which has never been reprinted) and some kind of audio-component as well with Sim himself reading dialog from the comic.

He set the funding goal at $6,000. A day later it's already raised $12,000 and counting. Even his estranged ex-wife contributed to the thing!

I find this all terribly exciting. Not necessarily because I need to read the Cerebus books again once they're made digital (though I probably will). But because an audience who might never have seen it will have a chance to discover it, and be swept away by its odd charm and the complete unwillingness to compromise that allowed Sim to take his book in a direction that a no mainstream publisher would have understood.

And yes, he's crazy now. But even his misogyny and homophobia and Bible-thumping aren't anything like anyone else's versions of the same. Dave Sim believes that the Bible secretly depicts a war between two gods, one male and one female, for control of the human race, and he spent several issues of the comic doing an exegesis on the Torah to explain his theories (helped by a cartoon Woody Allen). Which is to say that his own descent into madness, depicted in vivid detail in the pages of his comic, is one of the most fascinating things I've ever read.

And if we really get all the back matter, we'll get a digital version of his long diatribe criticizing Scott McCloud for being into digital comics back in the day. And won't that be nicely ironic?